Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voices of the SANC: Helen Zille

Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa's official opposition party, speaks to David Ansara at the SA National Convention in Sandton (1 Nov 2008). She discusses the health of democracy in SA, proposals for reviewing the electoral system, as well as the prospect of a governing coalition with the new political party after the 2009 elections.

Ms. Zille, that was a rousing speech that you gave just now. What are your initial impressions of the convention so far and what do you make of the leadership and the kind of messages that are coming out of them?

HZ: Well this convention is very encouraging. It shows how many South Africans are prepared to stand up for the constitution. For the last ten years we in the DA have felt like voices in the wilderness. We’ve been raising these points for fifteen years now and every time we’ve been dismissed - some people have called us racist - and I was quite concerned that South Africa was drifting into a one-party dominated state and that we could risk going like Zimbabwe.

After today, and after the developments that I think today will trigger, there’s no chance of us going the way of Zimbabwe. What we have to do is make sure that the values and the rhetoric that was here today gets translated into the kinds of outcomes we want to see. First of all, the values and policies and everything that go with it.

DA: What do you think this new organization needs to do in order to achieve those stated goals? How do they sustain the momentum that they’re gathering at the moment?

HZ: Well, no new organization has yet been established. Today’s forum and tomorrow’s forum is just a debate and a platform for people to state their views. The DA won’t join the new organization and certainly won’t disband. We are going to continue our organization, the Democratic Alliance, we’ve stood for these ideas for fifteen years (and much, much longer, before the democratic constitution) and we will continue to champion them. We will fight the elections all over the country. And after those elections if we can establish governing coalitions with people who share our values and share our principles we will do that.

DA: Gwede Mantashe, the Secretary General of the ANC, has dismissed this movement and the potential for a breakaway party as possibly having a damaging impact on other opposition parties – cannibalizing the other opposition parties. What do you make of those type of statements?

HZ: Gwede Mantashe is making a big mistake. That is the ANC spin; that is the South African Communist Party spin. They know precisely that most of the people this new movement is going to take are from the heart of the ANC. Look around you today and it will tell you.

DA: Right Ms. Zille, thank you very much.

HZ: Thanks very much..

DA: Um, one last question. The new party - or the potential new party - are talking about being the custodians of democratic values and the protectors of the constitution. That is a message that the DA has often broadcast to the South African electorate. What needs to be done to protect the autonomy of the judiciary and to ensure that we are guided by constitutional values in South Africa?

HZ: Well, I’m delighted that other people are starting to speak our language now as well in terms of the rule of law, in terms of the supremacy of the constitution and all of those important things. What South Africans need to do is ensure that they never vote for one party in such large numbers again. No party in a constitutional democracy should have a two-thirds majority. That’s asking for trouble and in a democracy people get the government they deserve.

DA: On the question of the electoral system, one of the proposals has been a mixed constituency and proportional representation system in lieu of the current PR system that we have. Do you think that this will have a positive impact on the way that politics is run in South Africa?

HZ: We fully support constituency-based and proportional representation together. We have a clear proposal on that and we would like to achieve the outcome of ultimate proportionality with accountability to the voters. That is our aim.

DA: And a direct presidential election system – is that part of your proposal?

HZ: Directly electing the president, the premiers and mayors is not yet part of our proposal but we’re looking at it with great interest. We think that if that were part of the system of government in South Africa the parties would consider a little bit more carefully before deciding who to put up into those positions.

DA: Just a final point. You suggested the possibility of a broad coalition of opposition parties. What conditions do you think need to be in place for that to happen?

HZ: Well I’m talking about a broad coalition to put us in government and not for perpetual opposition. We’re in politics to be in government. When we’re in opposition we will do that job as well as possible – which is very well – and when we’re in government we will also have the opportunity to implement our policies.

DA: Would that be based on some of the successes you’ve had in Cape Town using the broad coalition model?

HZ: Most certainly we will build upon the developing success we’ve been having in Cape Town. But the fact is before you go into a coalition with anyone there has got to be agreement on broad things like the Open Society, the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. Not patronage, manipulation, power abuse and self-enrichment. We have to have an agreement on principles and we have to stand together against power abuse. Unless that is the case there is no basis upon which to form a coalition.

DA: Okay, thank you very much, that really is the end now!

HZ: Thanks very, very much.


Photos by David Ansara & Jared Jeffrey

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